Thursday, July 25, 2013

An Heir and Squirrel Rehab

I fully intended to write another blog this week about our trip to Scotland. And I still might at a future date. But this week, the hubbub about the baby stole all focus away from my plan. Such a fuss over so tiny a wee thing! And who knows where the mother got to!

Oh, you thought I was talking about the royal baby, great grandson to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, grandson of Charles, the Prince of Wales and son of William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge? Nooo! Granted, the royal infant is darling and his birth is undoubtedly a newsworthy event. Huzzah! Three cheers for the future King! But at our house there was much ado about a squirrel.

Little George, as I have named him, was born sometime in the morning on the same day as the new heir to the British throne; July 22.  Perhaps, considering the time difference, it was at the same hour as the royal babe! I shall never know because I found the poor thing in our yard under a tree that I was discussing with an arborist at the time. I deduced that the man was experienced in all things “tree,” so I believed him when he identified the pink, hairless wriggling newborn as a squirrel. It was no bigger than a fully grown field mouse. Its eyes were not yet open. The arborist concluded that the little one had fallen from the loose collection of leaves perched high up in our maple that some squirrels called home, but it did not appear to have been injured in the fall. It landed in soft grass.

“Happens all the time!” he said. This big burly man picked it up gently and cradled it in his large hands. My reaction was, “Eu-yew!”

“Oh, nuts!” he said, ironically (squirrels, nuts, you get it) “Now I’ll have to drive out to the wildlife rescue place. (Pause) Unless…”

“Unless?” I asked.

“Unless you’ve got a little box we could put him in and maybe some tissue to make a little nest. We can pop it in the crook of the branches here and the mama squirrel will come back for it.”

“O.K.!” I was excited. I ran in the house and grabbed a shallow plastic sandwich container and a few Kleenexes.

The arborist placed the tiny thing in the Tupperware nest and anchored the container between two sturdy branches, well above my reach. He seemed confident that the mother would find it there. I watched him pull away in his truck, thinking, “Uh, wait a sec….don’t go!” Ah, nuts, now I’m responsible for a squirrel!

I went in the house and did the next thing every modern mother would do. I Googled. The Ohio Wildlife Center web site concurred with the arborist’s advice. It said I should allow a good long time for the squirrel’s mother to reclaim her baby. It even said that squirrels are very maternal and will adopt orphaned young. Apparently, they’re very good moms.

I waited. I watched out for cats. And hawks. And Starlings. I started developing protective, maternal instincts toward this rodent. What if those thunder clouds meant a downpour would fill the nest with rain? What if it got windy and the cradle would fall? I waited all afternoon and into the evening. I fully expected an expired squirrel by dinner time, but every time I went to check on it, it wriggled and turned over, looking for its mom. Poor little thing! My heart melted.

By dusk, still no squirrel mother. In fact, I hadn’t seen a single damn squirrel all day. In our neighborhood where the squirrel population is at least four to every household, where the heck did they all go?!?  By bedtime, I had decided to let nature take its course. If a raccoon came along for a snack, so be it.

I didn’t sleep well. I tossed and turned, imagining carnage and finally got up with the dawn. Surely, it couldn’t have survived the night. But it had! Oh, it was alive! I was distraught! What now?

I called Ohio Wildlife Service and talked to a volunteer. “You’re doing all the right things!” he reassured me, “You could wait another night and chances are the mother will come.” Another night! Was he nuts?!? I was a wreck! I wasn’t waiting another night.

I got on the internet and found a site listing Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitators. Just the thing. I called one in our area. “No, I don’t take in squirrels,” she said, “But I know someone who might. Let me call them and they’ll call you right back.”

The next few minutes seemed like hours. I waited by the phone. “Hang on little guy, help’s on the way!”

The Squirrel Rehabilitator called within a half hour. “Yes, I can take him.” Praise be! Ten minutes later I was on the road, my squirrel in his nest on the front passenger seat beside me, heading out of town. I’m pretty sure it was his first car ride. I looked over at him every chance I could take my eyes off the road for a second. Every noise or vibration in the car made him stretch for his mother. “We’re going to make it, little friend!” From the day before when I was almost hoping a hawk might swing by our yard, my emotions had swung to racing the clock to keep this tiny creature alive. “Please hang on, little one. Nearly there!”

Thirty minutes later I pulled into the driveway of a country house. Two junker cars sat sifting rust onto the gravel. Weeds and vines tangled around shrubs and rosebushes.  Empty animal traps with corn cobs inside lined the walk up to the house. I thought I heard banjoes. I took a deep breath and knocked, tentatively, on the front screen door.

Two dogs barked to announce my arrival. A very pleasant woman, forty-ish, came to the door. She lifted the baby out of the temporary nest and handed the sandwich container back to me. I put it down on the nearest table. I didn’t need it back. She had prepared puppy and kitten formula in preparation for our arrival and was already giving baby some nourishment from a syringe while I took in the scene in the room. There were glass terrariums (terraria?) everywhere. Guinea pigs. Chicks of some wild bird, maybe grouse or wild turkey. A teenaged daughter brought a scrappy, screeching baby raccoon for me to see. It had no teeth but it had a very firm grip on her finger.

My squirrel ate eagerly. Then he curled up on a heating pad in a plastic box and breathed deeply. A sweet, gentle Golden Retriever came to sniff the new addition to the animal collection. “Oh, she likes to meet everybody we bring in here!” the woman said.

I asked her if she took donations. I was glad I had some cash on me. I left. I was almost in tears.

When I told Ken the story later, he asked if the woman would call me to let me know how the little guy was getting along. “No,” I said, “I didn’t ask her to.” After all, mothers who have to give up babies for adoption often don’t know what happens to them. They trust that the adoptive mother will do her best. As far as I could tell, Little George was being treated like a King.



Friday, July 19, 2013

Two Sixty Year Olds on Vacation

There is a dimension of fun in life that young people just totally miss out on.

Take a conversation Ken and I had in the magnificent Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow, Scotland on our vacation last week.

We sauntered into a gallery where a small number of Rembrandt oil paintings hung on the wall. One somber canvas featured the splayed carcass of an ox about to be butchered. It was ghastly and beautiful all at the same time.

In a hushed, museum-toned voice, Ken leaned toward me and said, “Why do you suppose he painted an animal carcass?”

“Bacon,” I replied.

“Bacon? What do you mean, bacon? It’s a cow!”

“I know it’s a cow!”

“Then why did you say, ‘bacon’? You don’t get bacon from a cow.”

“Because that’s the guy!”

“What guy?”

“The guy that painted animal carcasses!!” (For heaven’s sake!)

“That’s Rembrandt!”

“I know THAT’S Rembrandt! I can read labels! The guy that painted animal carcasses was Bacon! Francis Bacon!”

“Why would you come up with that?”

“You asked me!” (You know the stage whisper that is actually quite loud? We were on the verge.)

“I didn’t!”

“Yes, you did. You asked me you who’s the guy that painted animal carcasses.”

“I asked you why Rembrandt painted animal carcasses!!”

“OOhh! That’s a different question.  I thought you asked me, ‘Who painted animal carcasses?’ I heard you say, ‘WHO was the guy that painted animal carcasses?’“


“No. Guess not. Sorry. I don’t know. I really don’t know much about Rembrandt. Bacon was 20th century. I know more about modern art.”

“Yeah, great. Thanks.”

He was walking away into another gallery. He’d lost interest in Rembrandt.

I trailed behind him toward another section of the museum.

“O.K., Miss Modern Art Major, let’s go see the Salvador Dali,” he called back to me.

“Muhammad Ali? You’re kidding me, right? Ali paints? Wow! That’s something to see, alright.”

“Yes, dear.”

As I said, we seniors have way more fun than young people.  

Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow
The Natural Science hall at Kelvingrove Museum

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I ain't scared of no ghosts!

When I was a little kid, my mother would attempt to quell my nighttime frights with the standard line issued by moms everywhere, “There are no such things as ghosts! Go to sleep!” She did not succeed in convincing me. Not that I have ever encountered any spirits, ghouls or apparitions. It’s just that I’m very susceptible to suggestion. And so I have spent my entire life hoping to avoid ever meeting anything spooky. I avoid scary movies. I don’t go on Ghost Tours on vacations. And I usually don’t book hotels that look haunted in advertising materials.

It was very uncharacteristic, therefore, when we were planning our trip to Scotland, that I should book accommodation in an isolated country inn built in 1700. But the images on the web site were so stunning and the video was so compelling, I told myself that it couldn’t possibly be haunted. I simply had to go there.

The eleven-room Airds Hotel is located at the very western edge of the Scottish highlands in a wee hamlet called Port Appin, where we counted no more than 40 houses, if that. There is one wee grocery store that also serves as a post office and there is a town hall. The village is encircled by sheep farms and grassy fields, set on the shores of a tidal lake, Loch Linnhe, with the Morvern Mountains as a backdrop. A small island, only 10 minutes from the pier in Port Appin by ferry, is dotted with Viking ruins. As we made our way along the single lane country road toward the hotel, up loomed the loneliest, eeriest castle perched on a rocky outcrop. The hairs on the backs of our necks stood on end at the sight of it. “Holy sh*t,” we both said at once.  Ha, Ha! We laughed and carried on our way.

As we reached the hotel, it had none of the castle’s spookiness. It looked so friendly. The sweetest white country house of stone construction. It really did have a past life as an Inn back in the 1700s. We found it difficult enough to get there by car; I can’t imagine how and why travelers in bygone centuries found themselves in this secluded, lonely, out-of-the-way place. But there you have it. I wondered if it had looked this hospitable and welcoming to weary travelers in days gone by.

Our accommodations were luxurious. The cuisine sublime. The staff so attentive and helpful. None of them looked like they were from Transylvania. I began to relax.

On the sunniest of days, soon after our mid-afternoon arrival, we found ourselves having scones, jam and clotted cream with our afternoon tea in the garden overlooking the Loch. We thought we were just this side of heaven. The staff brought us Scotch with wee appetizers outdoors before we went inside for a superb dinner. We ended the evening by walking to the pier at dusk listening to birds chirp, bees buzz and lambs baa-ah. We went to bed with our window open to welcome the cool, crisp sea air and we fell asleep listening to the gulls chime the setting of the midnight sun.

I woke up at 5:00 am. Light cracked through a gap between the drapes. I heard wee birds waking up. I slid out of bed and went into the bathroom. I decided I wouldn’t turn on the light so as not to disturb Ken who was still asleep.  My eyes began to adjust to the darkness and that little crack of daylight was beginning to seep around the door frame.

Except…..wait a sec. What was that? The light was interrupted by a dark shape. The hairs on my neck tingled. I hurried the task I was there for. I flushed. I washed my hands without singing “Happy Birthday” twice. I wanted to get the heck out of there. My heart had begun to race.

I reached for the door knob. My hand brushed something soft and heavy. I gasped. My voice caught in my throat. If I had been able to let out that scream, I would have woken everyone in the hotel. I jumped into bed and pulled the quilt up over my head. I gripped the sheets in both hands. And I tried to find my breath.

Now, I had not made a mental note earlier in the evening that two fluffy terry-cloth robes hung on the back of the bathroom door. A sleeve was the innocent perpetrator of my ghostly visitation. Ha, ha! Nothing at all!

I like scary movies that end with reasonable explanations for perceived hauntings. Don’t you?

I left a light on the next night.